Christmas Eve. The graveyard shift. And a skeleton staff.
Ed Straker surveyed the quiet control room. It was his own fault really; he had insisted that Alec take some time off this Christmas and have a decent break, and Paul had done the Christmas Day shift last year so it was only fair that he should do the late one, yet again. He couldn’t remember the last time he had not spent Christmas Eve in SHADO HQ, on duty.
He didn’t really mind it. For some unknown reason Christmas tended to be relatively peaceful in SHADO. For the last few years the aliens had left the Earth alone over the holiday period. He had no idea why, but wasn’t going to argue about it. Perhaps the aliens spent the time disembowelling each other instead of humans. He grinned at the thought.
It had been a grim few months; the bombing of his house, his kidnapping and subsequent breakdown, and the incident onTracy Island. As if that wasn’t enough he had the relentless grind of battling the aliens on an almost daily basis.
Sometimes he wondered if he was ever going to win against them. He wondered if he was doing any good at all. Sometimes he despaired of ever making sense of it. The waste of life, of effort and resources.
But there had been the good moments as well; Rachel, his new apartment, his changed life. He could hardly remember what it had been like last Christmas, by himself, still tormented over John’s death. This year he would be sharing it with her. He was looking forward to that more than he could ever have imagined.
He patrolled the room, checking the monitors, reading the data stream coming in constantly fromSID. All clear there as well. Everything was in order. He was impressed that no one had tried to sneak in some decorations.
He didn’t have any objections to tinsel and all that stuff, but unfortunately, tinsel and computers did not mix well and he had been obliged to ban Christmas decorations from all ‘business’ areas of SHADO. It had earned him the reputation of being somewhat of a Scrooge, but he didn’t really mind. He knew it was only in jest, well, mostly.
The Staff Lounge, however, was now a veritable Santa’s grotto of baubles and so on. That was okay by him, as long as he could get to the piano, and he didn’t have to clear the Christmas trees away afterwards. He should be able to get in there in the morning to indulge himself with playing some Christmas music and carols; if the aliens stayed away.
There might even be a chance later on, if the evening was undisturbed, of continuing his latest chess match with Virgil Tracy. But for now he had his job to do.
‘Get me Moonbase Control please,’ he asked the duty communications officer, Evan Pierce.
‘Hello Commander,’ Nina, her face blurred slightly over the satellite videolink, smiled at him. ‘Happy Christmas or am I too early?’
‘Still Christmas Eve here Nina,’ he replied, looking at his watch. ‘Another thirty-seven minutes to go yet. I just wanted to check if everything is quiet there with you. With any luck we’ll have another undisturbed Christmas this year. I don’t want to drag any staff in for an alert unless it’s absolutely necessary.’
‘Nothing happening here Commander. Except the preparations for the arrival of Father Christmas,’ she laughed, and Straker and wondered why it was that the women in Moonbase always had such a positive and optimistic viewpoint. Perhaps it was that attitude that made them so successful at coping with the daily grind in the Lunar Base. He didn’t think he would be able to cope so well in the small, confined base, with little or no freedom.
Alec Freeman had delivered a case of Champagne there last week when he did his regular inspection. Well, ostensibly Alec Freeman, but Straker had paid for it. There were also small gifts for every Moonbase staff member on duty over Christmas in the same consignment.
Straker liked to keep his generosity a secret though. He had worked hard to cultivate his persona of being an ice-cold commander, and didn’t want to ruin his carefully constructed image.
‘Okay Nina, keep in touch though, I don’t want any unpleasant surprises tonight.’ Straker closed the link and headed for his office.
Sitting in his chair behind the desk he poured himself a coffee. Alec would no doubt have been drinking whisky and Paul Foster, bourbon, had they been here, but he rarely touched alcohol and besides, coffee helped keep him awake.
He picked up the latest batch of paperwork and started working through it. Christmas or not, SHADO still had to have everything detailed in triplicate, and all signed and approved. Given the chance, Straker would have halved the red tape, but Henderson insisted on it. Sighing to himself he started reading, annotating and signing papers before stacking them neatly in their folders.
Eleven thirty-five. He would send the Control room staff off to the lounge after midnight for a break. He was perfectly capable of overseeing the control room by himself when it was quiet and he could give them all a chance to have a drink and relax. In fact, if it was really quiet, he might be able to send some of them, especially the ones with young children, home early.
He thought of Rachel, at his apartment. Probably asleep by now. He wouldn’t wake her with a call at midnight, although he really wanted to hear her voice. This was the first Christmas he had shared with someone for years, too many years. And even though he would be on duty tomorrow as well, until midday, he knew that she would be coming in to spend the day with him.
‘This is Moonbase calling Shado HQ. Come in Control.’ Nina Barry’s face appeared in the monitor on his desk.
She nodded to him. ‘Hello Commander, looks like I may have spoken too soon. We are getting reports of an unusual sighting outside our solar system. Not a UFO we think. It’s moving too slowly for one of those, and it’s approximately one thousandth the mass of a UFO but it’s magnitude is minus 4.6. Very bright indeed for such a small object. We can’t give any more information at the moment as it doesn’t seem to register properly on our sensors, but Hubble has confirmed it. I’m sending you the details now’
‘Thanks Nina, I’ll take a look from this end. Could be nothing, but it’s best to check. I’ll let you know what we find out.’
Straker headed for Control and gave the hard copy of the Moonbase data to Pierce. ‘We need to move Hubble as soon as possible. I want to get a clear view out to this anomaly. See if Hubble can give us any more information about it.’
‘Sir.’ Pierce immediately set to work, ordering Hubble’s computer to begin the process of adjusting its orbit in order to focus on the appropriate sector.
Straker crossed over to check on the data fromSID. There was nothing.SIDhad not registered the object on any band or wavelength or frequency.
Yet Moonbase reported the sighting, and Hubble was never mistaken. Hubble was one of Shado’s best kept secrets; a world famous telescope ostensibly for searching out distant galaxies and photographing them.
In reality, Hubble was Shado’s deep space reconnaissance telescope, with the primary objective of searching for the origins of the alien’s planet and alerting the Shado defences whenever a UFO was heading for Earth. Of course Hubble had its other uses, such as today, when it backed up the Moonbase sensors.
But SID should also have detected an object entering the Solar System.SIDwas designed to detect any solid objects, however small, entering the immediate vicinity of the Solar System, so why had it not picked up this anomaly? Straker wondered what the object could be. Not a UFO with that speed and magnitude.
He looked around the Control room. Everyone calm and efficient, focussed on their tasks. Everything as it should be. He had no doubts about their ability to deal with whatever it was out there, but he didn’t like surprises.
‘Commander, Hubble has completed its manoeuvres and we are getting the first images now.’ Pierce interrupted his reverie.
Straker leaned over his shoulder looking at the clear, perfectly focussed photographs that were being relayed to SHADO.
It seemed like a little glass ball, like the one on his desk, but obviously much larger. Clear and transparent, shimmering sparkles reflected from it back into the darkness. A trail of light followed it, not like a comet, but more like a contrail from a plane. It was evidently moving fairly quickly, from the different positions shown in the sequence of images, but it bore no resemblance whatsoever to a UFO. What the hell was it?
‘Pierce, put those images through the computer database. See if the computer can tell us anything about this object or can recognise it.’
Straker paced, apprehensively. This was something totally new, outside his sphere of knowledge. He felt uncertain, confused.
‘Sir, the computer has no citations or suggestions for it.’ Pierce reported.
Moonbase Control confirmed the findings. The object was now inside the Solar System in a heading that would lead it to intersect Earth’s orbit atmidnightexactly. Damn. Just when he was anticipating a quiet evening, this had to happen.
Still he was determined not to call out any additional staff; if this wasn’t a UFO, they should be able to deal with here with the skeleton staff on duty.
He waited, leaning patiently against the wall in the control room as if he could wait forever.
The blip moved inexorably across the radar screen, traversing the void, heading for Earth intersection.
Eleven fifty. Ten minutes to Earth Orbital Insertion. He folded his arms and stood, outwardly serene and composed although his mind was racing through the possibilities and scenarios that could occur in the next minutes.
The minutes ticked away, slowly, inevitably, and he watched and waited. Enduring and focussed.
‘Have we a grid reference for trajectory termination yet?’ he asked.
‘Just coming up now Commander.’ Pierce fiddled with the controls on his terminal. ‘Grid reference GK 451 DF. That’s pretty nearly directly above us.’ He turned and looked up at Straker.
‘Speed?’ Straker, curt and to the point, a new urgency to his voice.
‘Slowing down now, it’s not going to enter Earth’s atmosphere if it keeps on its current heading, it’s more likely to go into orbit.’ Pierce sounded puzzled as he relayed the information.
‘Keep Hubble following its path,’ Straker ordered, wanting as much visual data as possible.
Eleven fifty-eight. The blip slowed down, stayed true on its course and swiftly, precisely, entered a Low Earth Orbit, positioning itself in a perfect geostationary orbit directly above the SHADO HQ at an altitude of 324 kilometres.
Straker wondered for one brief moment whether to evacuate HQ., but dismissed the thought almost immediately. If the intruder was going to attack, it would be within the next few minutes, surely, and there was no way he could get everyone far enough away in such a short time. Besides, they could be safer down here, under eighty feet of reinforced steel and concrete.
Midnight. The second hand on the large Control Room ticked over to twelve…
And with a coruscating flash the tiny sphere exploded into a nova. A radiant halo of light rippled outwards from its centre. The real-time images from Hubble showed a brilliant miniature star, blazing like a beacon in the midnight darkness.
And then it was gone. Just the radiant memory of its brilliance etched into his mind forever.
Darkness prevailed again.
No one moved, no one even seemed to breathe.
Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime, Straker broke the stillness. ‘Anything on radar?’ his voice quiet and soft in the hushed tranquillity of the room.
‘Nothing, and nothing from Hubble either, Commander, no residual radiation, no damage to any installations or satellites. It just exploded and disappeared, leaving no trace of its existence. It’s as if it never existed.’ Pierce confirmed.
‘Well then. Looks like it’s going to be another quiet Christmas.’ Straker smiled. ‘Okay, everyone, I think I’m capable of running this place by myself for an hour. Go and take a break, all of you, in the Staff Lounge, but don’t come back too drunk.’
He watched them head off, chatting and discussing the evening’s mysterious event. Alone in the control room, he sat down at Keith Ford’s console, studying the monitors, thinking.
He felt totally calm, totally relaxed, as if the bright flash of light had burned away his doubts and fears, leaving only the purest of emotions, true belief in what he was aiming to achieve.
With a profound certainty he knew that one day he would defeat the aliens, that everything that he was doing now in SHADO was worthwhile, was worth the pain he had suffered, would suffer. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, rejoicing in the feeling of absolute peace and serenity.
There was a noise from the corridor outside and he turned, surprised, to see Alec, Paul and Keith Ford enter the room, followed by Rachel.
‘Just thought we’d come and check to make sure you are working hard, Ed. I spoke to Nina earlier on to wish her a Happy Christmas and she told me about that peculiar anomaly out beyond our Solar System. I thought we should come round to see if you needed any help, and it was a good chance to give you your presents.’ Alec explained. ‘So, what’s been going on?’
He handed Straker a small beautifully gift-wrapped parcel, before sitting down at a nearby console. Paul Foster grinned and placed another parcel, also gift wrapped, on the console in front of Ed, to be followed by Keith Ford, blushing slightly as he handed over his offering.
Straker looked at his friends. ‘Thank you,’ he said sincerely, ‘I wasn’t expecting any of you tonight, so I haven’t brought yours here. You will have to wait until later today.’
Rachel stepped forward and bent down to kiss him. ‘Happy Christmas, Ed . What has been happening then?’
Carefully, logically, unemotionally, he told them the facts.
The incongruous object, entering the Solar System, slipping into orbit around Earth, its geostationary position and finally its transformation into a mini-nova before its rapid disappearance.
He showed them the images from Hubble.
There was silence. ‘Well? Any thoughts?’ he asked them.
‘Ed,’ Rachel spoke quietly, almost diffidently.
‘Yes?’ he encouraged her with a smile.
‘It’s Christmas Eve. Just think about something for a moment will you and don’t dismiss it out of hand.’ She paused, unsure whether to carry on.
‘Go on. Enlighten me.’
‘Look closely around this room and the people in it. Your three friends, who have travelled here tonight to see you because of a light that appeared above this place in the night sky. Three friends who have brought their gifts for you. And you, you are here as always, to save the world from danger. Does that remind you of anything?’
He looked up at her in startled bewilderment, reaching out for her hand in his confusion, and his ash blonde hair caught the lights from overhead and reflected them in a gleaming halo of palest silvered gold around his head.
LtCdr Dec 2009
Not for profit, I do not own any characters (except for Rachel)
My rewrite of Geostationary 1 Think I prefer this version.
with thanks to RHO (B.Sc.Hons. Space Science) for input and advice x x
This is just a story. Don’t forget that!